Liverpool in perfect harmony as Klopp’s ‘boys’ head for glory
Team with zero self-doubt deserve reward for their brilliance to make up for domestic disappointment
On a drive around Liverpool you see houses festooned with banners, flags and streamers: a Champions League version of Christmas, with space on the roof for the trophy the red half of Merseyside has every right to imagine in their team’s possession this weekend.
Liverpool’s fans were never slow to parade their allegiance, before, during or after big games. The bedecking of houses around Anfield and the Melwood training ground, however, has a different feel this time. This is not the ritual optimism of a nearly club. This is no underdog bark. Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool are a ruthless winning machine. The players are at ease with each other, the staff are all cheerful and bright-eyed and the whole operation rolls into
Madrid knowing that not much is beyond the scope of this formidable side.
Manchester City were, in the Premier League, but only because the champions amassed 98 points to Liverpool’s 97. At the same time Spurs piled up 13 defeats to Liverpool’s single loss: one of the reasons Klopp’s men are warm favourites to win a sixth European Cup on Saturday night.
Tottenham’s comeback against Ajax in Amsterdam – heroic though it was – was not the greatest fightback of a seismic week. Liverpool 4, Barcelona 0 will take a lot of shifting as the best Lazarus impersonation of the modern age.
We raced on from that crazy night, to other dramas, other showdowns. This sporting life moves so fast that “last night” is already dead by the time it reaches the shops. Our culture says: “Yeah, that was good, what’s next?” In the Champions League, Ajax 2, Spurs 3 was next, and it set up an all-english fight for the title of comeback kings.
The blanket thrown over Lionel Messi and the reversal of a 3-0 first-leg deficit required gusts of emotion. Storms of passion drove Klopp’s team on.
The noise made your ribs shake. The great collective push of team and Anfield crowd quashed even Messi’s talent for escapology. But the crowd’s support was not, I would argue, the true measure of this team. The real gauge is their ruthlessness, their togetherness and confidence. These qualities have not always shone from the “false dawn” Liverpool teams who came to challenge but then fell away.
At the club’s Champions League media day, you could see why Liverpool exude a different air these days. No longer is it Anfield plus tradition against the world. Now the crowd, the team and the structure all work in synch.
Klopp said earlier this season: “We are maybe the most emotional club in world football.” But he said it knowing “emotion” was now only one of Liverpool’s assets, not the main animus. At Melwood yesterday, Klopp said “at the moment, it’s pure excitement”, but then talked with more force about the seminal 4-0 victory over Barcelona, which he calls “the best game I ever saw”.
Here’s why: “Circumstances, missing players, 3-0 down, stuff like that. But the boys gave me from the first minute the feeling of being completely ready for it. Not 4-0 – you cannot plan that. But 3-0, or 2-0 – it still would have been a fantastic achievement, and everyone would have said ‘good response’.”
Liverpool performed at such a high level that night Klopp felt himself relax. This was the nirvana all his nervous energy drives him towards. Except this time the football was taking him there without any need for histrionics. “It’s not too long ago I was sprinting on the pitch and jumping on my goalkeeper,” he says, referring to his £8,000 fine for invading the field in a Merseyside derby. “It was an expensive run and I decided I would not do that again.”
The subsequent Premier League title race denouement brought only the most honourable nearmiss in top-flight history. Heading to Madrid, his “mentality giants” still lack a reward for their brilliance. They may lack it still at the weekend if the spirit moves Spurs to be inspired again. They have it in them. But Klopp’s men exude the air of people who will force it to go their way.
Of Saturday’s final, Klopp says: